Interview and Photos by Scott Preston
Known far and wide as the light behind the widely syndicated Grateful Dead Hour radio program, several books on the Dead and a number of intriguing CDs relating to the band and its music, David Gans has in recent years blossomed into a compelling performer in his own right, touring nationally and releasing several albums, the most recent of which is the critically acclaimed Twisted Love Songs. The seventeen tunes on Twisted Love Songs offer a wonderful glimpse of the breadth of this modern troubadour’s musical gifts.
Armed with his sturdy baritone, an electro-acoustic guitar and a pedal-controlled looping setup that allows him to layer multiple guitar parts into a complex contrapuntal weave, David makes the term “solo artist” seem woefully inadequate – surely we’re hearing other unseen guitarists in this glorious stew! But no, the folks who were witness to the live performances from which the album was culled can tell you there were no other players in the shadows or pre-recorded tape legerdemain involved – just a marvelous right brain-left brain synergy that allows David to conceive of and execute his loop collages in real-time and in perfect rhythm; no easy feat, to be sure. On the instrumental “Cassidy’s Cat,” he deftly interlaces melodic figures from a trio of beloved Grateful Dead songs – “Cassidy,” “China Cat Sunflower” and “Bird Song” – to fascinating effect: it unfolds like some steadily moving audio collage. Other songs on the CD use looping to different degrees, some not at all. This isn’t the gimmick of some one-trick pony, but a carefully conceived approach to song construction that has evolved with David’s own songwriting. (from bio on dgans.com)
Cincy Groove: Why did you choose the title “Twisted Love Songs” for your most recent cd?
David Gans: I originally wanted to call the album Twisted Love Songs and Workplace Travesties. This particular collection of songs has those kinds of themes in it. There are actually a couple songs that are both a twisted love song and a workplace travesty. Because sometimes work is a twisted love situation. Naming albums is one of those weird things. My last couple of cds were very plainly named, Solo Acoustic and Solo Electric. I thought I needed to display my character and wit a little bit.
Cincy Groove: I see you also did all the photography and design work on the cd as well.
David Gans: Well I’m an amateur photographer and I try to do as much of it myself as I can. A lot of that music from the record was recorded on that winter tour from out west. So it made sense to use that photo. The other photo on the cd cover I took at a friends house outside Moab, Utah. Thats actually a big rock that happens to look like a cracked heart. What a perfect event for a cd called Twisted Love Songs.
Cincy Groove: How long have you been hosting the Grateful Dead Hour?
David Gans: It has been 23 years. My first broadcast was February 18, 1985. I was a guest on the KFUD Grateful Dead Hour promoting my book Playin in the Band. I had so much fun putting a piece together for it they let me come back and do more and help the guy out who was hosting the show. He was kind of in over his head. He wasn’t really a Deadhead, he was a sweet guy but seriously overworked. He was happy to have some Deadheads from the neighborhood come in. I had always been a guy who dabbled with audio stuff anyway. They eventually asked me to take responsibility for the show. At the time I was a freelance writer, a very slow and undisciplined one at that. It was much more fun to be making tapes for the Grateful Dead Radio Show than to be making up smart things to say about rock bands that weren’t that interesting.
Cincy Groove: When was your first Grateful Dead show?
David Gans: March 5, 1972. It changed my life.
Cincy Groove: What do you like to do outside of music?
David Gans: My wife likes to go camping. I do some outdoor stuff with her once in a while. I’m one of those guys who has so much creative things going on that I really don’t have a hobby. Everything that I do is stuff that I find interesting and it all fits together. So I’d rather be doing creative play that just doing something to kill time.
Cincy Groove: Do you remember the first interview you did with a member of The Grateful Dead?
David Gans: The first major interview I did with a member of The Grateful Dead was with Bob Weir in August of 1977. I went to L.A. when he was working on his solo record Heaven Help a Fool. That began the process of me making friends with all of them. I eventually got to interview all the rest of them. Even Phil Lesh who was a pretty rare interview at the time agreed to talk to me in 1981. It was for a musician magazine and that led to a friendship that has lasted for a long time.
Cincy Groove: What did you think of Dark Star Orchestra the first time you saw them?
David Gans: The first time I saw them I was a little weirded out. They played at the Fillmore and choose a kind of non descript show to play that night. The next time I saw them was in Ohio at Nelsons Ledges. I was out there in the dirt with all these young people dancing. I closed my eyes and it felt like The Grateful Dead in 1978. Its just so much fun to play that music. If you can earn a living playing it and get in front of audiences that want to hear it thats all that really matters.
There are people out there who will say that Dark Star Orchestra are mindless copy cats but thats not the case at all. Thats a lot of work to do what they do. They have to learn the lame songs too. They have to learn every song in the book to be able to play it properly. Its a serious commitment and discipline that that guys make.
Cincy Groove: Are you working on any other projects?
David Gans: I have 2 projects near completion. In 2 sessions last year and one in February I recorded with Tim Carbone from Railroad Earth producing. A bunch of his bandmates and some other great musicians playing. So we have eleven songs in the can. We just don’t know exactly what we are going to do with them because the record business is dissintigrating. So we have to figure out how to get the songs to the market one way or the other. We are looking to see whats going on in the music world. I also have this second project with a great sound designer here in Berkeley, California named James LeBrecht, his studio is http://www.berkeleysoundartists.com. Its a record of improvisation. Jim and I work on that in our mutual free time. He does a lot of movie sound work so he is pretty busy. One of these days we will get it finished and then I will have another record I don’t know what to do with.
Cincy Groove: What advice would you have for somebody who wanted to be a music journalist?
David Gans: Oh man I would have no idea, the world is so different now. When I started like almost everything in my life I got into it by accident. A friend of mine in 1976 who happened to publish a magazine knew that I was a writer and suggested I do some writing for him. That music magazine folded pretty quickly. But Bam Magazine had started, it was a free bi – weekly here in the bay area. They were doing some really great stuff. So I took my unpublished pieces over to Bam and they took them and printed them. Music writing was a great way to learn about music. I was a musician trying to get somewhere in that business so it wound up being my job for a number of years. It beat the shit out of getting a job in an office somewhere.
My radio show happened because The Grateful Dead were such a strong presence and they had such a enthusiastic and large audience. I never had to learn how to market my radio show either. I was just really lucky to be in the right place at the right time with a lot of things in my life. I was smart enough to see when a door opened up in front of me and confident enough to keep doing stuff. Just keep learning and keep my eyes open. The whole nature of every business I have ever been involved in has changed. Intellectual property is impossible to control in the digital age and magazines are going belly up because of among other things, postal costs. No Depression just went out of business because they couldn’t afford to print and mail their magazine anymore.
My advice is that you just have to make a spot for yourself, and I really don’t know how your supposed to do that. Because nothing that happened to me is transferable to another person strictly because of my unique circumstances.
Upcoming David Gans tour dates:
for complete show details visit www.dgans.com
March 27-30: Suwannee SpringFest Live Oak FL
April 12 Benefit for Greenaction at the Ashkenaz, Berkeley CA.
April 14 6:40-8:30pm: DG plays live on KWMR (90.5 Point Reyes Station CA, 89.3 Bolinas CA
April 18 The Old Western Saloon, Pt Reyes Station CA.
April 19: Fillmore in San Francisco, CA
May 4 Marin County Farmers’ Market San Rafael CA
May 17 KFCF benefit in North Fork CA
June 28 Grand Lake Farmers’ Market Oakland CA
July 4: Rhythmfest Revival at Nelson Ledges Quarry Park, Garrettsville OH
July 31-August 3: Gathering of the Vibes, Bridgeport CT
August 6 Fairfax Farmers’ Market Fairfax CA
August 15 or 16: A Bear’s Picnic, Milton PA